Sky-High Strawberry Shortcake

We’re not quite there yet, but since we’re starting to see early strawberries come into the markets, it made me think of this wonderful little cake I made last spring (2012). It’s from Alissa Huntsman and Peter Wynne’s cookbook, ‘Sky High’; a marvelous little cake cookbook that I have big plans for. I’m going to be doing a LOT more dabbling in and a lot more writing from it, if this cake is any indication.

Strawberry Vanilla Shortcake May 9 2012

Sky-High Strawberry Shortcake

Fresh strawberries sweetened and flavored with a blend of vanilla and rosewater or anisette impart an almost floral taste to this buttery cake. Mounds of lightly sweetened whipped cream fill the layers and top the cake, resulting in a heady richness and plenty of moisture.

Makes a 6-inch triple-layer cake; serves 8 to 10

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 ½ cups cake flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder (see Baker’s Note)

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

1 ½ cups heavy cream

Fresh Strawberry Filling (recipe follows)

Whole strawberries, for garnish (see Baker’s Note)

1      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 6-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each with a round of parchment or waxed paper; grease the paper.

2      In a large mixer bowl, cream the butter, ¾ cup of the sugar, and the vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs on at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl well after each addition.

3      Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add these dry ingredients to the batter, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 or 3 additions. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans.

4      Bake the cake layers for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper, and allow to cool completely.

5      In a large chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff. There will be about 3 cups.

6      To assemble the strawberry shortcake, place on cake layer, flat side up, on a small cake stand or a serving plate. Top with ¾ cup of the Fresh Strawberry Filling, spooning it over the entire layer and making sure any juices go onto the cake layer and not the plate, if possible. Top this with 1 cup of the whipped cream, spreading it evenly over the berries. Repeat with the second cake layer and another ¾ cup filling and 1 cup whipped cream. Top with the final cake layer flat side up. Cover with the last of the whipped cream and garnish with a few whole berries. For best flavor, cover the dessert with a cake dome or loose plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours before slicing. Serve with the remaining Fresh Strawberry Filling on the side.

Baker’s Notes

  • It is a little unusual to use all baking powder and no baking soda in a cake that contains buttermilk. It was done on purpose here to emphasize the nuttiness of the buttermilk and employ the acid to produce an extra-tender crumb.
  • For decoration, choose regularly shaped whole berries that have not been hulled. Halve them right through the green tops down to the pointed bottoms, creating small red hearts topped with green. Place them around the top of the cake with the cut sides facing up.
  • While the cake layers can be baked up to 2 days in advance, if wrapped well and refrigerated, the finished shortcake will no hold up for more than a day. However, for best texture and flavor, it’s important to assemble the dessert completely at least 2 hours in advance so that the juices and cream have a chance to seep into the cake layers and all the flavors meld beautifully.

Fresh Strawberry Filling (Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

If you have a choice when buying your strawberries, choose berries that are darker red. In general, this signifies they are riper, which means they will yield more juice and will be sweeter and more intense in flavor.

2 pints strawberries, small if possible

2 tablespoons anisette liqueur

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup sugar

Clean and hull the berries and slice into pieces about the thickness of a nickel. Place in a bowl and add the rosewater or liqueur, vanilla, and sugar. Stir to coat them, cover the bowl, and let the berries macerate at room temperature until they exuce their juices, about 1 hour.

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